Saturn is Subordinate to Jupiter

Concerning Saturn as the presiding “donegality” of The Last Battle:

…we should note that Lewis thought that art ought to meet psychological needs. That, in his view, was one of its justifications. Art (good art) very properly served to awaken or maintain or strengthen those parts of the human constitution which needed such ancillary support. As we have seen, he considered his own contemporaries to be in particular need of the spiritual nourishment that could be derived from imaginatively inhabiting the sphere of Jove. Too easily, in his view, the writers of his generation assumed that brains splattered upon a wall represented what life was ‘really like’ and that the consolations of religion were ‘really’ only a trick of the nerves, never reflecting on their equivocal use of the word ‘really.’

Lewis wanted to know why the former ‘reality’ was privileged above the latter and concluded the Jovial perspective had been selectively aborted. Of all the terrible losses inflicted by the Saturnine Great War, perhaps the most terrible—-from the imaginative point of view—-was this loss of belief in the kingship of Jupiter and the usurpation of his throne by Saturn.

Saturn  (From a Medieval book of Hours)

Saturn
(From a Medieval book of Hours)

… In other words, he thought that asceticism needed to have an account of the light by which it sees the darkness under reproach. Failure to recognise the uncondemnable wisdom inherent in the act of condemnation is itself a condemnation of philosophies that are wholly nihilistic. Such failure constitutes what Lewis—as early as 1924—called ‘The Promethean Fallacy in Ethics,’ a fallacy he found in Thackeray, in Russell, and in every ‘good atheist.’ The criticism or defiance that such a person hurls at an apparently ruthless and idiotic cosmos ‘is really an unconscious homage to something in or behind that cosmos which he recognizes as infinitely valuable and authoritative…’

Lewis thought that the Book of Job showed the legitimacy of such complaint, and his own angry lament for his wife’s death, A Grief Observed, is an example of the same thing. He fully recognised the human need to shout and shake one’s fists at God: but, equally, he recognized that, once the breast-beating was over and the passion was spent, there was something else to say…

Thus Lewis’s model of the universe has standing room for bleakness, but no throne. In this respect, as in so many others, he differed from the modernist mainstream. As he looked about him, he pondered the causes of the twentieth century’s poetical taste for nihilism and angst, such as he found in Roy Fuller’s line, ‘Anyone happy in this age and place / Is daft or corrupt.’ He traced its origins not to the obvious source (the Great War), but much further back, suggesting that it had its beginning in Keats’s praise of ‘those to whom the miseries of the world / Are misery, and will not let them rest,’…. His own belief was that the world’s woes were chronic but not absolute, because the resurrection of Christ had relativised them. One must do all one can to alleviate such sufferings, but need not be overcome by their non-disappearance in this life: ‘one’s own cheerfulness, even gaiety, must be encouraged,’ as must ‘the importance of not being earnest.’

… The truth of Joviality springs out of the chaotic remnants of Saturnised Narnia. It is at this point that we discover that Lewis’s fictional universe (like the one he believed himself to be living in) is not Saturnocentric, nor even interminably eucratic, but has a fifth act and a finale ‘in which the good characters ‘live happily ever after’ and the bad ones are cast out.’… At the end of the Narniad his aim is to make us ‘look along’ that spirit of open-heartedness as he orchestrates a grate cosmic eucatastrophe. Wave-like, Jove-like, it overwhelms those who keep the faith: for them, everything sad becomes untrue.

Quoted in Planet Narnia, by Dr. Michael Ward, pp. 210-212

Finale of the Last Battle

Finale of the Last Battle

In my mind, this chapter in Ward’s magnificent book presents one of the best (even if sidelong) treatments of the problems of sorrow, pain, and evil within the Christological view of the universe. When I read Lewis’s The Last Battle for the first time (which was recently, even though I had read the rest of the series multiple times over the years), I was taken aback by its tone and content. Yet through the lens of the medieval characterization of Saturn, the poiema and logos of this book come together in a profound expression and acknowledgement of the reality of the horrors and grief we encounter in life, which is nevertheless situated beneath the ruling sphere of Jupiter – the sphere of joy, courage, forgiveness, and active rest. We not only live in a universe like this, but also make our art in it. Accordingly art may (and should!) furnish us with support and encouragement by alluding to all of these things – not by negating the horrific and the sorrowful, but by situating them within the greater image of the Jovial universe. For “we are all between the paws of the true Aslan!”

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s